Win Christmas: How To Cook The Best Holiday Ham

Are you hosting holiday dinner this year? Making your first ham? Fear not, it's not as hard as it seems.

1. Before you start: know there are different types of ham

Not all hams are created equally. Here are the three most common:

Prepared Ham/City Ham

These are the most common hams and can be purchased at your local supermarket. Biggest bonus--these are super simple to prepare (they're already cooked!). If you're lucky enough to be near a smokehouse, make sure to place an order 3-4 weeks before your dinner. Look for a spiral-sliced variety for the easiest carving experience.

These are often smoked or cured and only require a little glaze before baking.

Fresh Ham

These are uncooked and not prepared--you'll have to do a little more prep for a tasty experience. Think of these as the ham equivalent of your Thanksgiving turkey.

Country Ham

Salt-cured, air-dried, and smoked, country ham is a flavor experience. It's the American interpretation of an Italian prosciutto. If you opt for one of these, they make stellar flavor additions to greens or grits and make fabulous biscuit fillers the next morning.

Check out this excellent article from the NYT for all you need to know about hams

2. Gather your tools

You'll need:

A heavy roasting pan. Don't have one? Double up on throwaway tin baking pans. Just make sure they're strong enough to withstand the weight of your ham.

Food Thermometer

Pastry or Paint Brush (for applying glaze)

Sharp chef's knife

3. What size ham to buy?

A good rule of thumb: 3/4 to 1 pound of bone-in ham per person. If you're going boneless, 3/8 or 1/2 pound per person.

If you're serving country ham, go much smaller. The flavor is so intense, so people likely won't eat very much.

4. Baking Times

For a city ham:

At 275 degrees F, you should cook for 20 minutes per pound.

If you're shorter on time, you can set your oven to 350 degrees F for 10 minutes per pound.

For a country ham:

Wipe down with a wet cloth or soak in water for 12-24 hours. Then, cook in simmering water for 20 minutes a pound.

If you want to glaze your country ham after boiling, dry it off, add the glaze, and roast at 400 degrees F for 15-20 minutes.

5. Don't buy an artificially plumped ham

Check the label on city hams. If it reads "water added" or "natural juices" don't waste your time and money. The label should just read "ham."

6. Don't dry out your ham

A dry ham means a sad Christmas. Place the ham cut-side down and cover with aluminum foil. For even more mositure, add a little bit of liquid (red wine maybe?) to the bottom of your baking pan.

7. Glaze is a ham's best friend

Glaze adds taste and visual appeal. Try one of these glazes instead of opting for the bagged glaze that comes with most hams.

Maple Bourbon

Pineapple Honey

Coca-Cola with Brown Sugar and Dijon


8. Score your ham

If your ham isn't pre-sliced or spiral sliced, you need to score the skin of the ham. This allows the glaze to penetrate into the ham, but also opens up the interior of the ham to the heat of the oven.

Check out this article for how-to.

9. Don't glaze too early

Glazing the ham too early leads to a sad, dry ham with little delicious flavor. Bake your ham most of the way (target ~120 degrees F interior temp). Crank up the oven temperature to 425 degrees F and brush the ham with your glaze of choice. Bake for 10 minutes. Glaze again and place under broil until the skin is crisp (but not burnt!).

Check out this article from The Kitchn for more details.

SHARE with your friends and family cooking the holiday meal this year!

Before you start: know there are different types of ham

Gather your tools

What size ham to buy?

Baking Times

Don't buy an artificially plumped ham

Don't dry out your ham

Glaze is a ham's best friend

Score your ham

Don't glaze too early